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Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgency of addressing an epidemic of obesity and associated inflammatory illnesses. Previous studies have demonstrated that interactions between single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and lifestyle interventions such as food and exercise may vary metabolic outcomes, contributing to obesity. However, there is a paucity of research relating outcomes from digital therapeutics to the inclusion of genetic data in care interventions.

Objective: This study aims to describe and model the weight loss of participants enrolled in a precision digital weight loss program informed by the machine learning analysis of their data, including genomic data. It was hypothesized that weight loss models would exhibit a better fit when incorporating genomic data versus demographic and engagement variables alone.

Methods: A cohort of 393 participants enrolled in Digbi Health’s personalized digital care program for 120 days was analyzed retrospectively. The care protocol used participant data to inform precision coaching by mobile app and personal coach. Linear regression models were fit of weight loss (pounds lost and percentage lost) as a function of demographic and behavioral engagement variables. Genomic-enhanced models were built by adding 197 SNPs from participant genomic data as predictors and refitted using Lasso regression on SNPs for variable selection. Success or failure logistic regression models were also fit with and without genomic data.

Results: Overall, 72.0% (n=283) of the 393 participants in this cohort lost weight, whereas 17.3% (n=68) maintained stable weight. A total of 142 participants lost 5% bodyweight within 120 days. Models described the impact of demographic and clinical factors, behavioral engagement, and genomic risk on weight loss. Incorporating genomic predictors improved the mean squared error of weight loss models (pounds lost and percent) from 70 to 60 and 16 to 13, respectively. The logistic model improved the pseudo R 2 value from 0.193 to 0.285. Gender, engagement, and specific SNPs were significantly associated with weight loss. SNPs within genes involved in metabolic pathways processing food and regulating fat storage were associated with weight loss in this cohort: rs17300539_G (insulin resistance and monounsaturated fat metabolism), rs2016520_C (BMI, waist circumference, and cholesterol metabolism), and rs4074995_A (calcium-potassium transport and serum calcium levels). The models described greater average weight loss for participants with more risk alleles. Notably, coaching for dietary modification was personalized to these genetic risks.

Conclusions: Including genomic information when modeling outcomes of a digital precision weight loss program greatly enhanced the model accuracy. Interpretable weight loss models indicated the efficacy of coaching informed by participants’ genomic risk, accompanied by active engagement of participants in their own success. Although large-scale validation is needed, our study preliminarily supports precision dietary interventions for weight loss using genetic risk, with digitally delivered recommendations alongside health coaching to improve intervention efficacy


Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Vol 23, No 5 (2021): May